- Why Nigerian pilots prefer foreign training institutions
Chief (Engr.) Francis Igwe is an Aviation Safety Inspector at the Directorate of Airworthiness Standards, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and Public Relations Officer of the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE). He is also the Secretary of the Lagos Chapter of the Chartered Institute of Transport Administration (CIOTA) Nigeria and a member of the Institute’s Aviation Committee. In this exclusive chat with News Diet, Francis speaks on a wide range of aviation sector issues. Enjoy it:
The Nigerian aviation sector has been in the news recently for rising airfares, workers protests, airport concession bids, among others. Amid these developments, what does the future portend for this industry?
These occurrences at the Nigerian aviation sector have been foretold by analysts because of the way the sector has been handled over the years. The biggest challenges in the sector can be attributed to government policies and political will to implement the already made policies.
If we are to analyze the prospects of aviation sector in the country, we should look at the developments in the Western world to learn. Most nations have massively invested in the aviation sector and they continue to prioritize the sector, however, they haven’t interfered in the administration of air travel activities and its assets. In Nigeria, the aviation space like every other industry is being driven by political leaders. The professionals and technocrats could make their opinions known and propose solutions. Sometimes, experts design a clear strategy for implementation of these ideas but if the political leaders aren’t willing to do the execution, these ideas wouldn’t become a reality.
We need to start from the basics in Nigeria, such that when the National Assembly makes a law, the executives shouldn’t have an excuse not to implement the law. The aviation regulators and those who handle various services in the sector should also be allowed to carry out their obligations without political interference.
Looking at the rising airfares, one of the causes is the aviation fuel challenge. The increase in the price of this commodity, coupled with increased cost of transporting it, means that the fares will continue to soar. As long as Nigeria continues to export its crude oil and import refined petroleum products, there is no way the nation could have a lesser cost for aviation fuel. Again, this boils down to the political leaders.
Why not put one of the Nigerian refineries in order, out of the four existing refineries, so that the country begins to refine its crude. I was listening to a famous Nigerian comedian recently and he stressed that the federal government is hoping on Dangote refinery but this is a private business. Dangote has also said that he isn’t going to sell refined petroleum products below the rates in the open market. The pricing of petroleum products globally is being regulated by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and Nigeria will most likely remain with the fuel crisis even after Dangote refinery kicks off.
I pity the airlines because those of us who regulate them look at all these issues and wonder if they actually make profit from air-travel business. You see an aircraft designed to convey 40 passengers moving to Abuja with 5-10 passengers because they have to meet up with the Abuja-Lagos route. One has to pity these airlines because they ought to make profit from their businesses. I would strongly suggest that the federal government focuses on addressing the problem of aviation fuel in order to reduce the fiscal burden on airlines.
Plans are ongoing to concession some Nigerian airports and the concession is tipped to enhance the efficiency and profitability of the airports. However, there are some concerns and a look at Nigeria’s seaports concession shows advantages and disadvantages. As an aviation expert, what’s your take on this concession arrangement for Nigerian airports?
In this part of the world, whatever the government manages suffers a lot. Such investments usually remain underdeveloped when compared to similar projects managed by private entities. When this idea of Nigerian airports concession was first mooted many of us kicked against it. Most unions, including NAAPE (where I’m the Public Relations Officer), kicked against the concession. However, we later reasoned with the federal government on this concession and agreed with them, even though other unions still don’t agree with the government.
When you look at top airports around the world, like Heathrow Airport is managed successfully via a concession. In Nigeria, when you examine MM2 Lagos Airport which is being managed by Bi-Courtney, you could believe that MM2 is the international airport if you hadn’t been to the MMIA before. The services at MM2 are top-notch even though it is a domestic airport. These are the beauties of concession and we believe that if the international airports are concessioned effectively, the nation and the airports will be better.
There are concerns that the concession could be mismanaged or politicized as we have seen this happen with several investments in Nigeria. We have seen cases where a political leader who is heading the process of concessioning a project, goes to register a company just to bid and win the concession. When such happens, we will observe that there wouldn’t be much difference compared to the wholly government era. So, I want to advise that due process and procedures be followed for the Nigerian airports concession. Most unions have fears that the concession might lead to job losses but it could also create additional jobs and enhance efficiency and profitability of the airports.
In the end, the most important question is what do the airports contribute to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country? This is a very important aspect that concession also improves.
In recent times, there have been concerns about the nation’s inability to develop quality manpower in aviation despite the availability of Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT) where the federal government has invested heavily. Where is there still a high propensity of individuals traveling abroad for aviation training?
I’m a product of NCAT in Zaria. I studied Aircrafts Maintenance and Engineering. The school is well-equipped and their training is accepted all over the world. NCAT was established in the same year with the Ethiopian Aviation Academy in 1964. However, you can’t rate these academies on the same level today. The Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) being generated by Ethiopia from the aviation academy is comparable to Nigeria’s earnings from crude oil. I was in Ethiopia for an official assignment recently and I was stunned at the level of development. While we were there, we met some aviation experts from Ghana who also came to Ethiopia for their training.
Ethiopia hasn’t just improved in its facilities and standards, they have turned the academy into a massive revenue spinner but Nigeria’s NCAT still remains where it is and fully dependent on the government. If NCAT is allowed to function independently without any attachment or interference by the government, I think the institute would do far better than it is doing now.
Pilots also prefer to be trained outside Nigeria because at those foreign institutes an aircraft will be detailed to you. After making your payment to the Institute and passing your ground school, you will be assigned an aircraft and given an opportunity to fly morning, afternoon and night. So, in less than one month you could get the minimum Private Pilot Licence (PPL) and Commercial Pilot License (CPL) qualification. In Nigeria, you would have over 50 students in two seperate classes and a larger percentage of students ahead of them waiting to get an opportunity to fly, yet there are no aircrafts.
In Nigeria, there is a long schedule with students getting an opportunity to fly once in a week and it takes a longer period to get the PPL and CPL. So, most people prefer going abroad to get trained and some of my friends have opted to train in Ghana, Ethiopia and South Africa because of this challenge. Nevertheless, in terms of equipments and expert trainers, we have the requisite standards at NCAT.
As an executive of the Lagos State Chapter of CIOTA, what is your position on the present ban on motorcyles in Lagos?
This initiative is commendable because motorcycles have become a major security threat to Lagos residents and they account for a greater percentage of road accidents. One would recall that this ban has been placed about three or more times in the last five years. So, there is a need to have to political will to enforce this ban and not relax it in few months.
I recall an experience when the Vice President of Nigeria, Prof Yemi Osinbajo visited Apapa by road and the entire place was cleared. Some of us who accessed Apapa that day wondered if it was the same place known to be characterized by traffic gridlock and indiscriminately parked trucks. The roads were cleared but there was no will to retain that sanity. Lagos roads have been devoid of motorcycles so far but there is a need to ensure that they don’t return.
The ban on motorcycles is a good development even though we are concerned about the massive job losses. Another approach would have been to attain some level of decency in ‘okada’ operations. The events with motorcycles have been scary.
I have a friend who alighted from a motorcycle and the rider was to give him a balance of N100 but he refused. When my friend persisted, the rider opened his seat and brought out a dagger. My friend ran away because he wasn’t going to endanger his life over the money. The violence and crime associated with motorcycles is too enormous in Lagos State. There is the convinience and easy access to certain locations that bikes avail us, but the safety and security concerns are also paramount.